Roncesvalles Collegiate Church

  • colegiata roncesvalles

The most important monument along the first section of the French Route to Santiago is the Hospital-Collegiate Church of Santa María de Roncesvalles. It stands over the former hospital-church built in 1130 by Alfonso I the Battler, Kinf of Aragón and Navarra. Its construction began under the reign of Sancho VII and supposedly it was consecrated in 1219. 

The church was inspired by the French Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame. It has three naves and the chancel was built over a crypt that stood on the ground unevenness. The entrance to the crypt was at the wall of the Gospel side. On its exterior stands a large quadrangular tower from the 14 C, which contains the Gothic image of the Roncesvalles Virgin, key piece in the Collegiate. Supposedly it was brought from Toulouse. The church houses many treasures, such as a book of the Gospel from the 12 C, whereon the kings of Navarra took the oath of loyalty; a casket from the 12 C worked in gold and silver, and a Mudéjar casket with the shields of the kings of Navarra.

The original building of the monastery was destroyed by fire in the year 1400. The Chapter house, later converted into San Agustín´s Chapel, is the only part that remains from the original construction. In its interior are the Gothic sarcophagi of King Sancho VII the Strong and her Queen, Doña Clemencia de Toulouse. The present cloister dates back to the 17 C.

The crypt comprises a straight section with barrel vaults and a pentagonal apse. On the three piers of the apse open splayed windows. Its walls and vaults are throughly decorated with 13 C murals representing wainscots with tridimensional frets, foliated bands, imitation of broken ashlaring and imitation of drapery.

The Collegiate Church also houses Santiago´s chapel and a Library-Museum from the end of the 19 C that contains many treasures collected over the years, such as Carlomagno´s chessboard, the Virgin of Tesoro, the Romanesque silver book of the Gospel...

Next to the Collegiate Church stands the Romanesque chapel of Sancti Spiritus (12 C), which served formerly as a funerary chapel for the pilgrims who died in the area.

Roncesvalles Collegiate Church has always been an important staging post on the Route to Santiago. Nowadays pilgrims still receive the blessing, just like they did at the beginning of pilgrimages.